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Will Windows Phone 7 apps smile for the camera?

Snapping screenshots of what's on your phone is a relatively new trend. Find out if Windows Phone 7 will be getting on board.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

One of my favorite features in Apple's iOS is the quietly-hidden capability to take screenshots. Back when I was doing deep dives on iPhone apps for stories, the feature was just there, and it worked. Outside of CNET, it let me do things like grab pictures from sites (before that feature was officially added), and put together quick step-by-step how-to guides for friends and family, turning the device into less of a consumptive tool, and into something that would help me get work done without a computer.

But in the past few months of me putting Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 through its paces as a primary device, I've been missing the feature dearly. So naturally, I asked Microsoft if it was on the short list of features to be added later on down the line.

The short answer? No.

"I have never sat in a user group--and I sit in a lot of user groups, a lot of retail groups--I've never heard an end user go 'why can't I take a screenshot of that?'" Aaron Woodman, director of Microsoft's mobile communications business, told CNET in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

Well ahead of a screenshot tool is a laundry list of features Microsoft plans to add, including the ones competitors have already put out, which Woodman referred to as "gaps."

"One of the reasons that personally pulled me over to the Windows Phone space was that there's a lot of choices to make," Woodman said. "It's not like we didn't know copy and paste was a feature that people could potentially want, it's a question of how important it is to the user experience. When can you get to it?"

According to Woodman, it's also not always the users who help Microsoft determine which features need to be fast-tracked. "We do a lot of things for reporters," Woodman said. "I would argue things like the Mac connector software--the software that lets you take your Windows Phone and connect it to an Apple PC of some form, and basically pull over music from iTunes and photos and that kind of stuff--it wasn't built because we thought there was a significant market opportunity for Mac loyalists out there who were dying to buy a Windows Phone. It was built because reporters would show up with Macs," Woodman said.

The other half of the equation, Woodman explained, is that developers who wanted to take screenshots of their applications have had the means since the introduction of the Windows Phone 7 SDK. "There's a ton of ways to do it in within the emulator, so application developers have no problem with that," Woodman said.

If you're thinking to yourself, "this is a niche feature," look no further than Damn You, Auto Correct, a site that popped up back in October of last year and is now up to more than 1,300 posts containing unintentionally humorous instances of the iPhone's autocorrect feature gone wrong, snapped and sent in by users.

However, something that would let you snap photos of text conversations is one thing. Where Woodman said some problems could arise is with capturing certain types of content if there's copy-protection involved.

"The reality is, we have a DRM requirement for our marketplace, which makes things like HDMI and those types of things out, more difficult," Woodman said. "We've made a choice to have a more protected set of content on the phone and available to consumers, so we do have restrictions within that," he said.

What that would mean for such a feature is that you wouldn't be able to snap a shot of what you were doing if there was a copy protection layer in place. This is similar to what Apple does with the built-in screen grab software in Mac OS X when movies are playing inside the DVD player application.

Woodman said the feature could end up in a future build of the OS software though. "Not that we couldn't technically do it. I mean, at the end of the day it's software," he said. "We could definitely choose to do screenshot capabilities if you're not in these three experiences."

Windows Phone 7's first software update since its launch late last year is just around the corner. Besides the addition of copy and paste, you can find out more about what kind of benefits it will bring to things like application load times and the Marketplace search tool in our other chat with Woodman from last week.